I Wonder: Why can't you pump your own gas in Oregon?

I Wonder: Why can't you pump your own gas in Oregon?

I Wonder: Why can't you pump your own gas in Oregon?


by Don Day

Bio | Email | Follow: @DonLDay


Posted on January 21, 2010 at 9:58 AM

Updated Sunday, Mar 16 at 7:54 PM

Why is it that only in Oregon they will pump gas for you but not in other states? Why is it required in Oregon?
- Danielle, Meridian

We’ve all done it. Hop in the car for a trip to Oregon, stop to get some gas, jump out and grab the gas nozzle.

Then you hear it. The notice from the gas station attendant: “Stop!” Stop… pumping my own gas?

The Beaver State is known for many things – a beautiful coast-line, great micro-brews and a ban on pumping your own gas.

Oregon State Code lays it all out in black and white: only trained employees of service stations are allowed to put so-called “Class 1 Flammable Liquids” into cars.

Not only is the prohibition the law of the land, but legislators in Salem put a laundry list of reasons why the ban was prudent into state code. The list isn’t a short one:

  •  People with training in pumping are better at keeping down fire risk
  • It is nearly impossible to enforce safety standards on the driving public
  • Seniors and disabled drivers can’t get adequate help at self-serve stations, and are instead forced to find a full-service outlet and pay a higher price
  • Oregon’s rainy climate leads to more slick spots at gas stations, meaning higher liability insurance rates
  • Decreased maintenance of pumps because they aren’t regularly monitored
  • Self-service contributes to unemployment – especially among young people
  • Exposure to toxic fumes is a health hazard
  • Toxic fume exposure is heightened for pregnant women
  • Gas drive-off thefts are cut down with the law
  • Children are sometimes left unattended when customers go to make payment

Oregon law also makes it clear that just because it works in places like Idaho or most of the rest of the country, doesn’t mean it is the right call for them. Reference is made to “other states” four separate times in the law – including notes on the inability to enforce safety standards, lack of support for senior citizens and even the disappearance of auto-repair shops at gas stations.

While the law puts forth lots of reasons – what’s the real root of the rule?

"It's one of those things where I think tradition plays a huge role,” Marie Dodds with Oregon’s AAA said. "Keeping prices down was the original reason.”

Dodds says times have changed in the decades since the law was enacted.

“Our gas is no more expensive than Washington or California."

But if you are itching to grab the gas nozzle in Oregon – don’t look for it to happen any time soon. Dodds says the issue has gone to voters several times, and residents always say they like the system the way it is. She says the fact that Oregonians get their gas pumped without paying more is a benefit.

“If it doesn't cost anymore and we can still have it pumped, why not? Once you're here for a while and you get used it you don't want it to change."

One thing drivers in Oregon never have to do is get out of the car on a rainy or cold day to put gas in their vehicle.

"I think it's one of those things that people who come to Oregon have trouble believing it. It boils down to Oregon likes to be a little bit different sometimes,” Dodds said.

If you’ve ever been embarrassed because you tried to fill your tank in Oregon – you’re not alone. Oregonians sometimes have the opposite problem.

"Sometimes I visit another state and sit there for a second and go 'oh wait', before I get out and start pumping."

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